Friday Flotsam: Software Problems and Jabberwock

1. Missed last week, obviously. Oh, well.

2. For work-related reasons I ended up reviewing many of Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (yes, I’m serious. No, it’s not as interesting as you’d think). In the process I noticed for the first time (or perhaps I had noticed before and suppressed the memory) that the Jabberwock has a waistcoat. And socks.

Also please get it straight that it’s Jabberwock: ‘Jabberwocky’ is the name of the poem

Felt that needed to be pointed out.

3. One cannot become great out of fear, or in order to rub someone’s nose in it. Greatness cannot spring from petty motives.

4. Begun the first steps in actual work, and I’ve discovered something. In the book Clean Code, Robert Martin (Uncle Bob) describes the ‘vicious cycle’ of software development. A company sets upon a certain stoftware platform. Software advances rapidly, so before long it becomes necessary to upgrade it. But the upgrade has to be able to integrate with the earlier system, since that is where the existing information is being kept. Moreover, upgrading takes a lot of time, since we’re dealing with an extremely complicated and delicate machine, and the system has to be completely functional throughout the process otherwise the company loses business.

So by the time the system is updated, the update is already out of date, the already-complicated system has become immensely more complicated, and probably numerous bugs have been introduced that have to be hunted down and corrected.

5. What all this amounts to is that software creates a lot of bloat: you need people on hand to continually maintain and upgrade the system just to keep things functional. It would be as if a law-firm had to keep a staff of scribes on hand to continually re-write all the law-books and hunt up typos. This doesn’t create value (since the system that results is immediately obsolete and in any case has no application outside the company), it only prevents the loss of value that naturally occurs.

This is a flaw in the digital revolution that I don’t think is noticed enough: it creates a natural instability couple with dependency, resulting in an enormous amount of busywork.

6. By the way, if any of you happen to run a company, I have some advice: open-floor plans are one of those things that sound good on paper and make for great sound bites (“we believe in collaboration and teamwork blah, blah, blah”), but are just infuriating to actually experience. People walking by every minute of every day, hovering around your chair because they have to talk to your neighbor, loud conversations going on two feet away that you have no share or interest in. Endless distractions, disruptions, and anxiety, all for the sake of not having to poke your head around a corner to talk to someone, or send an instant message (which we do most of the time anyway).

Not to mention that, frankly, I’m deeply skeptical that my or any one else’s input is so perfectly and unfailingly valuable that all else should be sacrificed to allow it unimpeded scope for expression. Especially when that input is frazzled and distracted by all of the above.

7. Recently had to change my password on a particular service following an apparent security breach. Thoughts upon creating the new one: “Guess that, you bastards.”

UPDATE: If ‘Jabber-Walk’ isn’t the name of a dance, it should be.

Alice at the Everyman

Finally got my internet back today, and just in time to find that one of my essays has gone up at The Everyman! It’s one where I get to talk about classic Disney and apply it to the decline of civilization, so…pretty much pure me. Enjoy!

In short, the book presents Alice’s dreams as places of fun and nonsense; the pure, innocent enjoyment of a carefree childhood. The film presents her adventures more as a cautionary tale, wherein Alice wishes for a world of nonsense and gets it, only to realize how uncomfortable and frightening it really is and long to return home. Delightful as the film is to watch, the central theme is that Wonderland is not a nice place to be in. It’s fun to imagine: not fun to experience.

The shift in tone and theme between the two versions is very interesting given the very different state of the real world at the time of each – that is, the world outside the scope of book, film, and dream.

Lewis Carroll wrote his book from the heart of the Victorian age, a time where, despite the rapid changes taking place, the old-world order was still standing strong and British culture and society seemed as solid and secure as Gibraltar itself. It was a time where a girl like Alice from a respectable, well-off family could count on the familiar trappings of home, of sisters and cats, of lazy summer afternoons and quiet winter days to remain always safely as they were. And where Carroll, AKA Charles Dodgson, mathematician, deacon, and schoolteacher, could know exactly what ‘normal’ was when he wished to satirize it.

On the other hand, Walt Disney made his film in a world scarred by two global conflagrations that had largely laid waste to the orderly world that Carroll knew. Disney worked under the shadow of Communism and the atomic bomb, of the questioning, doubting, and deconstruction of everything that had once been valued and assumed in Carroll’s world, and amidst the early rumblings of still more such disruptions to come. That is to say, Lewis Carroll lived in a world where order and stability were the norms. Walt Disney lived in a world where that same order was rapidly disappearing and chaos and nonsense were being seriously advocated to take their place. Small wonder that, consciously or unconsciously, he took a more jaundiced view of Wonderland.

Read the rest here